Vee Jay Records, started in 1953, was the first black-owned record company. It put to disc a wide variety of artists and styles, and was the first U.S. company to record the Beatles. It also made several good jazz recordings. Since going bankrupt in1966, the label has been resuscitated from time to time under various names. Blue Moon Records of Spain has now revived the Vee Jay name and has been reissuing selected items from the company's jazz catalog. This album is a two-fer consisting of LPs by vocalists Ann Richards and Mavis Rivers. Richards' session is a live performance from the Losers nightclub in Hollywood; Rivers' set is from a Las Vegas studio, and features a sterling group of jazz musicians. If, by putting these two items together, Vee Jay was trying to accentuate contrasts between the two singers, it succeeded: there are many, the most obvious of which is that Richards, who was married to Stan Kenton, ended her life tragically by suicide, whereas Rivers, on the other hand, had a more stable existence.
The two singers' performances highlight further contrasts. Richards delivers most of her material uptempo, relying heavily on scatting to help make her musical point; she scats well, much in the manner of Ella Fitzgerald. Her "Bye, Bye Blackbird" wordless vocal is a highlight of the session, with the resemblance to Fitzgerald even more pronounced on this number. Richards can be kind to a ballad, as she shows in a very emotive "Little Girl Blue." Interestingly, her voice tends to grow more nasal the faster she sings. In contrast to Richards' feverish renditions (probably obligatory for a Hollywood nightclub), Rivers' performances are more laid-back and relaxed. While Richards' is supported by a trio, Rivers is backed by some of the best jazz players around in the 1960s. Harry "Sweets" Edison exhibits his muted trumpet magic behind Rivers on most of the cuts, similar to the magic he worked with many singers of the era. Rivers' rendition of "Please Be Kind" ranks with Sarah Vaughan's. On "There'll Be Some Changes Made," Rivers, like many singers before her, makes "some changes" in the lyrics, to correspond with happenings of the 1960s. "Georgia on My Mind" is a musical conversation between Rivers and Bill Harris' trombone. "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart" is a vehicle for a very good tenor sax solo by Eric Dixon. And, of course, there's the presence of master vibes and jazz pioneer Red Norvo, who provides the musical exclamation point to the session. These are contrasting but satisfying performances from two singers who may not be in the upper echelon of jazz vocalists, but who both made generous contributions to the vocal art. A nice touch is the reproduction of the original Vee Jay LP covers.